Big news from Florida:
Officials from the The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are proposing a change in the current conservation status of the Florida manatee, a known subspecies of the West Indian manatee.
For the last 49 years, these manatees have been considered an endangered species. Survival problems included serious injuries from boat strikes and cold stress brought on from foraging in waters much cooler than the manatee’s typical warm springs. Propellers from boats, even in no wake zones, are a known cause of fatal injuries to manatees. The onset of cold stress is typically noted in prolonged exposure to waters that dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 C).
Michael Oetker, Deputy Regional Director for the U.S. Wildlife agency’s southeast office spoke at a news conference, “Based on the best available scientific information, we believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction.”
The manatee isn’t out of the woods yet. The proposal is to change the status from endangered to threatened. A threatened species, while not at imminent risk of extinction, could face endangered status in the future. However, the proposal for an upgrade is highly positive and a good indicator of things to come.
Regardless of a threatened or endangered status, protection of the manatee under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act will remain the same.
The increase in the Florida manatee population could be thanks to a number of factors both environmental and human-made. Accredited aquariums in the area, including SeaWorld, have had major success with manatee rescue programs.
Manatees suffering boat strike injuries and cold stress are rescued, rehabilitated, and released if deemed fit for survival. Recovered animals returned to their natural habitats are more likely to breed successfully and produce offspring.
Being aware of your surroundings while boating and fishing, as well as cleaning up the banks of fresh waterways can have a huge impact on the continued increase of the manatee population.